Review by Crash_WL

"It's not a lake, it's an ocean"

Having written quite some reviews, I considered making them closer to Gamespot's, i.e. adding Pros and Cons on top of the review. This is the first of my reviews to include this, and it is also my first review of an Xbox 360 game.

Pros:
- Terrific story, plot pacing and story-telling
- Memorable cast of characters
- Attention to detail, such as woolen clothes etc
- Voice-acting is top notch
- Ability to manipulate light and use it as a defending mechanic is something unique and finely tuned
- In-game optional collectibles (such as watching the TV shows or listening to radio podcasts) are worth finding
- Great animations blend in with varied combat

Cons:
- Lip-syncing, apart from Alan Wake, is way out of place
- A pretty basic variety of enemies and weapons
- Car controls could be better
- Some sparse difficulty spikes

Arriving in May 2010, Alan Wake was heavily advertised, as one of Microsoft's gems and one of Xbox's most promising exclusives. Truth is, this game was exactly what it was advertised to be.

Set somewhere in America, best-selling author Alan Wake decides to go on vacation with his wife, Alice. Reason for that break was some tense between the couple, generated by the author's stress about not feeling like he can write a new book, and his muse's pressure which was intended to be for his own good. The young couple sets off for a quiet small paradise, called "Bright Falls", hoping Alan's fame would not ruin their vacation by having them both under the spotlight for their whole stay. On the ferry to Bright Falls, an old man greets the couple and recognizes Alan's face, but Alan asks of him not to reveal his identity for the aforementioned reasons, and the old man cooperates but asks for Alan to be a guest to the local radio show, where he was the host. Having departed from the ferry, the couple starts searching for the man who was to give them the key to their lakeside cabin, and does so by selecting the local diner as their first destination. There, a seemingly obsessed with Wake girl goes crazy after recognizing the famous author, ruining the diner's quiet atmosphere. Wake decides to go to the WC room to get refreshed, but is bugged by the dank corridor leading to it, and almost jumped when an old lady told him to "beware of the darkness". A step before the bathroom's door, another old woman dress in black, most probably because of her being a widow, greets the writer in a disturbing, mysterious voice that reflected her appearance. After some short talk, she gives Wake the key to their cabin, and Wake sets off to it immediately without even visiting the bathroom. Shortly after departing in their car, the man who originally was to give the couple its cabin's key rushed out of the toilet, and holding a key, he said "Mister Wake! Your key!"... From there on, all hell breaks loose gradually. The successful writer now has to fight what he was writing about, as it comes true in the real world; or did he write about it? The game is playing with your mind just as much as it plays with the protagonist's mind, and all that unfolds inside a well-illustrated and beautiful world, with lots of different landscapes and lots of exploration to be had - let's not forget, Alan Wake was first intended to be an open-world adventure, but due to a handful of reasons, plans changed.

The game's story, and the way it's being told, will overwhelm you and make you feel emotions for everyone around you, but the game doesn't stop at that. Solid gameplay mechanics, and second to no glitches, will guarantee that this trip is unforgettable. The game plays like a typical third-person shooter, having the camera behind Alan when walking or using the sprint action, and moving it over his shoulder when aiming a weapon or the flashlights. What's not typical though, is Alan's defences against the forces of Darkness. To defeat this monsters, you must first weaken them by exposing them to light, be it your flashlight or anything else that generates strong light. After they've been weakened, they're vulnerable to normal gun ammunition and get killed just like normal men - well, apart from some special cases. Aiming your flashlight doesn't drain up any battery power; however, there's a mechanic that allows you to boost the light's power in order to inflict more damage, and there's how battery gets drained. You can have a maximum of 20 batteries on you, but that doesn't mean you'll use them all before you get the chance to resupply, unless you always use that power boosting mechanic. The game's weaponry is pretty basic, since it doesn't revolve around the shooter genre more than it does around the adventure genre. You get a pump-action shotgun, a revolver, a flare gun and the like in order to help Alan battle through the hordes of enemies throughout the game. Also, the guns control pretty well, and gunplay doesn't become a chore but rather something you can easily get used to, and it also has its amusing moments. Everything that has to do with sound throughout the game has been taken good care of. From the licensed soundtrack, which is just as good as the original one, to how fleshed out the characters feel when listening to them, everything adds up to create that great, one of a kind experience that Alan Wake is. What will disappoint you though, is looking at the characters when they speak. Apart from Alan, lip syncing didn't get much love, but it's not a game-breaking experience; rather, it bugs you, but like everything, you can get used to it. Another complaint would be the way cars are responding. There's not a huge amount of times you get to drive a car, thus it's not something crucial to the game, but they could be better and I'm sure of it. Don't get fooled though; the graphics of the game won't disappoint you. Although enemy variety is not what I'd call a "variety", they, at least, look great and I felt like I should forgive the developers for not including more. The character models look neat, with attention to small details, like mud or wool on Alan's jacket. Realistic environments take the stage now, with thousands of trees throughout the world, mixed with fine-looking water along with its effects, the sky, the beautiful countryside buildings and cabins in the mountains, all help create that atmosphere that sucks you in before you realize it. You will also witness some of the most absorbing lighting effects you've ever seen in a video game, since light effects have been taken great care of too - the game's based on light and dark anyway -, since the flares or general lighting are all beautiful to look at, even when they are reflecting on a surface, which also looks great. Framerate is also really stable, not stuttering even if you try to take off the dark veil of the most enemies the game's biggest lantern can handle. The game is over in about 13-14 hours on a normal playthrough, without the ton of collectibles that is around, but that's always dependent on the player and their playstyle.

All in all, Alan Wake is something that should be in your library, and not just on the shelf, but also inside your console so that you get the most out of this trip into insanity. How can you not be tempted, if you have played at least a small portion of the game and have experienced by yourself how solid it is? The star of this game is its plot, and I'll say it once again: it's outstanding, and it feels like you're reading a book - and a well-written one - but you can also control the protagonist through his journey, making it an interactive marvel. Alan Wake is a gem among games, not to mention its value among Xbox exclusives. If you don't have it, and like what you read, go out and buy it right away, since it should be around 20-30$ brand new by now. And remember: "it's not a lake... it's an ocean".


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 09/12/11

Game Release: Alan Wake (EU, 05/14/10)


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